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Painting Dragonflies. Step by Step Instruction Blog.

acrylic Dragonfly how to paint Transparent wings

Ever wanted to paint a dragon fly or other insect that has transparent wings. Or even fairy Wings but have no idea how to get that transparent look. Well read on for the most simple method you will ever find.

First off I have used the rocks underwater Tutorial as the background for this demonstration.

I would encourage you to get some reference pictures to use. It really will help you with details like how many strips on the body and where the wings join on the body.

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Step 1 Basic Outline

Use a dark colour for the body of the dragonfly. I have used a Paynes Grey.  Study your reference pictures so you can get the shape correct. Take special note of where the wings and legs attach to the body.

Step 2 Adding colour 

On one of my trips to the river this summer I found a pool that the dragonfly's seemed to really like, so I got to watch them for a while. I noted that most were a green colour or though there were a few red/pink ones. This helped to decide what colour to do my dragonfly. Choose what colour dragonfly you wish to paint. I am doing mine green/yellow. 

Study you reference picture and find out how many stripes that your dragonfly has, are some thinner than others and how are they spaced. This will give you a more realistic look in the finished picture.

Step 3 Shaping the body

Add some white to your colour and paint in highlights on the side that the sun would be hitting. Then use a shade darker than your stripe colour for shading the stripes on the shadow side. This should give your dragonfly a rounded look.

Step 4 Base Coat for Wings

Now for the super easy way to do transparent wings. I use iridescent medium. The one I have used here is super cheap and readily available in books stores in NZ. It's a Reeves product.

Paint a thin layer of the medium over the whole wing area. This medium can be a little thick and lumpy so you may need to thin it down with water or clear painting medium. The thicker the coat you use the less transparent it will be.


Step 5 Wing Veins 

Study your reference again and see what direction and general lay out of the wing veins. It's really up to you how many you want to put in. I go for the general idea rather than every one.


Step 6 Wing Colours

Again look at your reference. What colours can you see in the wings and where are they. Generally the colours in the shade are more blue, purple and green. The ones in the light will be more pink and yellow.


Mix a little of your colour with some iridescent medium and paint that colour wherever you see it on the wings. Keep in mind which direction your light source is coming from. Don't make this colour to strong as you want to keep the transparent nature of the wings. When choosing your colour you may even find it useful to use transparent colours rather than opaque ones. If you don't know how to tell it will usually show you on the tube. If not you can do a little test on a scrap piece of paper.  

Testing for transparency  

Paint a stripe of dark colour on a white bit of paper. Let dry.

Now using the colour you want to test, paint on the white paper and over the dark stripe and back on the white like a tee. If it's transparent you will be able to see the dark colour underneath showing through.

Step 7 Highlights

Mix some of your highlight colours with the iridescent medium and paint in where the sun is shining on the wings. Finally use some white or very pale yellow and very sparingly touch in the highlights on the wings.

There all finished.

Give this a try, would love to see how you go and what other uses for iridescent medium you find. I found it is also great for underwater bubbles and space clouds.

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